Junior Kendall Stadden practice with her Blaine football teammates last week. (Alex Kormann, Star Tribune)
Blaine kicker Kendall Stadden ran onto the football field for a game-winning field goal attempt, pressure heightened by the single blonde braid sticking out the bottom of her blue helmet.
She feared opposing fans’ reactions once her identity as a rare female high school football kicker was known. Sure enough, chants started. But they were supportive. Stadden’s student section invoked the name of Sarah Fuller, who last fall booted an extra point for Vanderbilt and became the first woman to score in a Power Five college football game.
Stadden learned about the chant later. She had blocked out everything during those final moments of the season opener at White Bear Lake. Two seconds remained on the clock as Stadden, a 5-10 junior, prepared for her fourth and most important kick attempt of the evening. Her Bengals, trailing by one point, needed Stadden’s 31-yard field goal.
Funny thing is, Stadden assumed her kick would be worth the same as her extra point earlier in the game. Before the evening of Sept. 2, she had never really watched a football game. Coaches recruited Stadden to try kicking based on her soccer acumen, the skills that had led to her verbal commitment to play for the Gophers.
Swinging her right leg, Stadden booted the ball high and true. Elated teammates threw their hands skyward well before referees did likewise. Blaine won 23-21.
“The entire team was rushing me, and I looked at the scoreboard and it said 23, so I said, ‘OK, I guess that was worth more than one point,’ ” Stadden said. “It was a very exciting moment.”
Her kick ended the game while signaling a beginning of sorts.
“Being kind of the center of attention for football the past week or so, it’s shown me how much more I’ll need to work to be a star forward at the U,” Stadden said. “That’s my end goal.”
After scoring five goals in a game and 25 goals overall as a sophomore last season, the latter one shy of the program record, Stadden leads the Bengals in both goals (three) and assists (four) through six games this fall.
Participating in football brought new pressure to Stadden, an elite athlete accustomed to high-stakes moments. Through playing for Blaine and the Minnesota Thunder Academy, Stadden said she has experienced clutch goals, penalty kick shootouts and games “where there’s been 100 scouts on the sidelines.”
Blaine girls’ soccer coach Scott Zachmann said Stadden personifies what he’s trying to teach a young varsity team featuring six sophomores.
“You can’t be afraid of failure,” Zachmann said. “That’s what we try to instill in our girls, and Kendall is a great example.”
Yet, stepping out of her soccer cocoon gave Stadden pause. Football coaches had encouraged her to try out, which she did after a successful one-on-one session with Shannon Gerrety, Blaine’s activities director and former football coach. He showed Stadden the basic steps and then watched as she drilled 10 of 11 extra-point attempts.
Gerrety saw enough. Stadden hesitated.
“Shannon said, ‘You should really contact the coaches,’ ” Stadden said. “I was like, ‘Dang it.’ Because I wanted to do it. But part of me didn’t want to be good at it. That way, I couldn’t fail at something I wanted to do.”
Challenges came as Stadden worked with the football team during August practices.
“We knew she’d struggle; she didn’t expect to,” football coach Mike Law said. “We realized what a tough competitor she is, how much pressure she puts on herself.”
Law also appreciates her confidence. In the second quarter against White Bear Lake, Stadden made her initial extra-point attempt, only to have it nullified by a penalty. Officials backed Blaine up 5 yards and Stadden’s ensuing attempt hit the upright. Years of kicking soccer balls helped Stadden make a quick diagnosis.
“I wrapped around the ball, so it went left,” she said. “I was very frustrated with myself.”
From the sidelines, Law sensed his new kicker was OK.
“I didn’t see any bad body language,” Law said. “What I saw was her thinking, ‘I hope I get another opportunity.’ ”
Her next chance came on an extra point in the third quarter, which she made to give Blaine a 20-0 advantage. Then White Bear Lake stormed back for a 21-20 lead. As Blaine’s offense drove late in the fourth quarter, Stadden stayed ready.
Fellow soccer players Ryan Schweiger and Ethan Wiens are also part of the football team’s kicking rotation. They couldn’t attend the opener because of the boys’ soccer team’s 7 p.m. game at Maple Grove. Wiens tracked the football game play-by-play on his smartphone as the team bus left Maple Grove and thought, “ ‘This is Kendall’s moment.’ ”
“They snapped the ball, my holder Joe Beckman caught it, and that was the last thing I saw besides my teammates rushing me. Nothing can beat the entire team pounding on my helmet, almost knocking me over. It was insane.”